Leave any child unattended for a length of time and they will undoubtedly find themselves in some sort of mischief, even if they weren't looking to get into trouble, and all world weary parents, teachers and carers will attest to this as truth. The main reason for it is because kids are naturally curious individuals (when you're young the universe tends to be a fascinating place), and are more willing to accept as fact things that many adults would find preposterous, ridiculous, or just plain crazy.
The irony is that while the "mature" population of the world will often scoff or smile condescendingly at children's tales of visits to strange worlds, encounters with weird creatures, travels on spaceships, fights with monsters, and other such flights of fancy, that doesn't stop adults from creating stories about children in exactly those situations.
Uchuu Show e Youkoso (Welcome To The Space Show), is simply the latest in the long tradition of adults stealing ideas off kids.
The movie follows the adventures of a group of children from a rural Japanese village who are attending an unsupervised week long summer camp in the local school building. During the first day they decide to search for a missing pet rabbit, but what they find are crop circles and an injured dog ...
Cue the madness.
The storyline is a rather interesting take on the whole idea of alien encounters, but there is a degree of predictability to proceedings due to the rather simplistic nature of the plot. That said, given that the movie is billed as family entertainment, it's nice to see that efforts have been made to make the whole thing more appealing to adults and children alike. Part of this is reflected in the visuals and audio, but the lion's share of focus undoubtedly falls on the story itself, so it's unfortunate that this is also the area where matters become somewhat ... confusing.
Too much effort can sometimes be a bad thing, and that seems to be the main problem with Welcome To The Space Show as it simply tries too hard to be everything to everyone. Unfortunately this is very much at odds with the simplicity of the plot, and the result is a tale that lacks the finesse of rival features. In addition to this there are a number of themes "borrowed" from other stories, and while plagiarism may be the first form of flattery, moderation is the word that director Masunari Koji and screenplay writer Kurata Hideyuki seem to have forgotten.
Now many people will automatically draw comparisons between Welcome To The Space Show and certain other anime movies, in particular Spirited Away, Galaxy Express 999 , My Neighbour Totoro (they find a strange friendly creature in the forest), and Oblivion Island, Production I.G.s 3D feature from 2009, and that's just from the East. There are also themes taken from the novel Five Children & It by Edith Nesbit (which was adapted into a live action movie in 2004), The Chronicles of Narnia, and the 1985 movie The Explorers. This rather dizzying array of influences initially looks like a disaster waiting to happen, so it's surprising that this narrative cacophony is not only understandable, but also entertaining.
When it comes to the looks though, this movie seems to shift into a higher gear.
Welcome To The Space Show is a creatively visual feast that, like Oblivion Island, easily surpasses Spirited Away when it comes to imaginative design. The opening sequence is simply a taste of things to come, and A-1 Pictures have put a great deal of thought into bringing home the idea that the children really have gone to another world. This is partly achieved through the use of bright, vivid, and sometimes clashing colour schemes that impart a slightly unearthly quality to a good portion of the movie. When this is coupled with some very creative character and feature designs the sense of not being in Kansas anymore really does come to the fore. The scenery is especially noteworthy for its detail and quality, and viewers may find themselves simply admiring the picturesque vistas from time to time. There's also a nice combination of static and layered backgrounds that add a degree of depth and character to certain scenes.
Unfortunately it's not all sweetness and light. Although Ishihama Masashi's designs are highly imaginative, consistency seems to be the problem as the quality of the visuals tends to drop from time to time, and there are occasions where the characters look more like animated cave paintings rather than defined figures. There are also a few scenes that the film could have done without as they serve no real purpose, as well as a few issues with the animation itself. While the majority of the movie features crisp, fluid movements and sequences, the drops in the quality of the visuals tend to be accompanied by actions that are almost stop motion.
Which, strangely enough, leads me on to Susan Boyle.
It's a very strange world that we live in, and one of the things that many people would probably rank as highly unlikely (if not nigh on impossible), is for a song by the "star" of Britain's Got Talent to be used as a theme tune to an anime. Truth is always stranger than fiction though, and thus her song Who I Was Born To Be is the featured track for Welcome To The Space Show. That said, she's actually no stranger to Japanese movies as the song that shot her to fame, I Dreamed A Dream from the hit musical Les Miserables, has also been used as the theme tune for the third Eagle Talon film (an animated flash movie that's the brainchild of Asahi TV's late night host, Frogman).
As for the rest of the noise, there are a variety of tracks on offer that range from dramatic classical pieces to ditties played on a banjo, as well as some very good audio effects that are often very crisp and clean. Unfortunately, Welcome To The Space Show suffers from a problem that plagues many other anime out there, and that is its choreography, or more specifically, its timing. The majority of the movie is actually very good in this department, but there are several occasions where something happens on screen a split second before the viewer hears it.
The most surprising thing about this film is Aniplex's decision to cast a group of relatively unknown 11 to 14 year olds in each of the child roles, and while the idea isn't new in anime (Ghibli have done it before), it's a gamble that pays off as only children can really act like children. The rest of the cast is made up of experienced seiyuu who play their parts quite well, but this movie is about kids having an adventure, and they really do steal the show thanks to some clever scripting and a sense that their characters really are inquisitive, curious, and pretty much everything one would expect a child to be.
Now given that this is a family movie there is bound to be some drama that forces the characters to learn and grow. The only problem is that rather than having one or two occurrences of these events, Welcome To The Space Show tries to throw too much into the mix. The movie can basically be broken up into four parts, and in each section the children are put in situations where they must learn certain lessons in order to carry on (the importance of work, looking out for one another, etc). The development verges on the formulaic for the most part, and any possible natural progression is hampered by the fact that the main theme for that section of the story never really reaches a conclusion. Instead it simply gets smothered by the next plot thread, or simply peters out, and this can leave the viewer trying to work out how the children got from A to B.
That said, the visuals do detract from the stolid, check box approach to character development, and while the storyline may contain far too many different influences and events, the obvious enthusiasm with which the child seiyuu approach the script offers some genuinely fun moments.
Welcome To The Space Show is a flawed creation that attempts to take on the might of Ghibli, and while there are areas where it clearly falls flat on its face, there are also parts that really are brilliant. The movie is slightly more tongue in cheek than one might expect, but at the same time possesses an edge to it that sets it apart from the somewhat saccharine nature of family entertainment. All of the flaws in the film can be forgiven on the basis of one fact - it's one of the more imaginative and creative anime movies to appear in the last few years. Yes, it "borrows" heavily from numerous influences, and yes, there are issues in almost every department, but it also takes the viewer on an adventure to strange and fascinating new worlds, and this aspect is probably the most understated thing in the movie.
After all, one should never underestimate the power of a good adventure story, and it's actually pretty easy to disregard the problems with Welcome To The Space Show. While an examination of the individual characteristics will highlight quite a few issues, this is one of those rare occasions where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. The movie may not be as slick a production as Summer Wars, Oblivion Island, or any of the Ghibli affairs, but even with that handicap it manages to convey a sense of discovery and wonderment, and when all the plusses are added together it's pretty easy to see why I enjoyed this film.
And before you ask, no, the movie isn't a glorified advert for wasabi.
- Animated by A-1 Pictures, a studio with high budgets in all its works, so the movie looks wonderful.
- Directed by Masunari Kouji, who has produced some nice minor titles from time to time (Photon, Read or Die) but in all he never produced something amazing.
Welcome to the Space Show by all means not a bad family movie, but it definitely is not a great one either. I am sure it can be very appealing to kids who have the patience to sit through it without being bored with its lack of action for the most part, and it sure will amaze any parents who watch it for its interesting depiction of the alien civilization.
It is definitely not a movie the average member of the target audience will love or care to rewatch any time soon. Apart from the story being simplistic, kids today are really addicted to violence and constant action (because of videogames and news on television) thus the overall calm nature of the film will most likely pass as boring. This is definitely not recommended to grade schoolers who play Vice City or live in areas with lots of public unrest. On the other hand, pampered kids with no worries who are forbidden videogames or too violent programs will definitely like it a lot more. As for the parents, I don’t know, if they like the old Walt Disney films they will definitely tolerate this one as well. It is not deep or confusing, and has its share of adult touches to keep a touch with reality.
The premise of the movie is a standard one. Some kids go on holidays alone on a rural area and meet an alien dog, who agrees to take them on a trip through space. During the trip, the kids must adjust and even work hard in order to overcome setbacks which delay the trip and their eventual return home. It has indeed its share of showing how little children need to work together, use their skills, make mistakes and learn from them, as means to open their minds to a whole new world that lies beyond their simple lives. It has adventure, comedy, sparks of drama and mystery, and even has a very action-based finale with a cosmic threat that arose because of their presence. On paper, it looks fine to follow through.
Of course, being a movie for the family eventually means that a lot of things make no sense or even feel off. For example, in the beginning of the film the parents leave their kids to go alone for several days in the middle of an unpopulated and uncivilized area. Their ages are simply way too small to accept that. I mean, what kind of a parent would let his kids go camping without adult supervision? All the mothers in my village wouldn’t let us get to the swamp next to us without experienced hunters or fishermen as guides and trainers and these ones just LET THEM GO ALONE??? Even if they are to learn new things, who is going to teach them or help them if something goes wrong? This is the wilderness for Pete’s sake; it is not the back alley of your neighborhood. Hell, even most back alleys are dangerous. And as you imagine, something did go wrong and they go jettisoned in the far corners of space.
As for what follows, it is still not exactly mind-boggling either. The kids go to several alien worlds and interact with whatever creatures and environments exist there. It all looks spectacular but doesn’t take more than three seconds to realize that the aliens, despite claiming to be a far more advanced civilization than Earth’s, are still practically nothing more than 21st century capitalists themselves. They have fast food identical to ours, kindergartens identical to ours, mechanics, mailmen, merchants, television, MONEY (heh proof of how they are not civilized at all), and generally despite the fancy alien exterior this is nothing but a typical urban society. They could have gotten on the city near their home and it would make no difference. This again doesn’t help you to enjoy the movie as nothing more than a mediocre road movie, where the dull sceneries simply have more colors and polygons than usual.
As for the plot itself, the kids pretty much need to earn money in order to find a way home, thus they need to work in areas their skills work best. Is it me or does this translates to CHILD LABOR? Which is kinda… immoral? Or is it ok for the so called advanced aliens to create workers from the age of five? And seriously, it is all about money and wealth? And hold on a second, one of the kids has an Earth plant which to them is a most rare and addictive drug. And they actually make money by selling drugs to bystanders??? Ok, this is simply crossing the line.
So this movie is practically about a group of kids, taken by a stranger to a city, where they need to work for money and sell drugs, all means to learn about the magical and advanced world that exists out there… YEAH RIGHT! The could have done the same in any ghetto for all I care. Or China. This is definitely not Walt Disney material. This is something along the lines of teaching the child audience the basics of capitalism. And since the pampered kids won’t get it and the videogame0addicted ones will already know it, this movie is nothing but vanilla in a fancy wrapper. It looks gorgeous with those really cool production values of its, plus the kid voice actors really did a great job to pass as natural. Other than that… nothing. This is not a magical setting to make your innocent mind go traveling to fairylands. It is almost vicious! Maybe it can be seen as camouflaged hard realism and a sign of the times we are living in, where ideals went under and it is all about that printed piece of paper called money. That still doesn’t feel like it should be a family movie. Why not some sort of teen adventure, where the themes would fit better? I sure wouldn’t want any kids to watch this and get funny ideas about making money.
The finale of the movie is otherwise trashing even that weird feeling it was going for. Out of nowhere space villains appear and try to create some sort of universal change and there is a battle to be fought or something. WHERE DOES THAT FIT IN ALL THE REST? Once again I fail to see what that has to do with the whole idea behind the movie, other than proving again how even the aliens are just capitalists with green skin and four arms. And it sure made the last scene cheesy and predictable. It’s not like it lasted a lot to care or they used some sort of super strategy to win.
In all, I wasn’t thrilled with this movie. Not only its themes were not-for-children in a children movie, but its plot was also unimaginative and ended expectably. The production values are great and they can fool the shallow audience into thinking there is something good in all that, but just like the Avatar movie, it is nothing but an amusement park balloon. Fancy colors and shape with nothing but hot air inside. Recommended as nothing more other than an average time-killer.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 2/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 3/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 3/3
STORY SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 1/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Art 1/1, Sound 0/2, Story 0/3, Characters 0/4